You don’t really expect a band that comes from a landlocked city in England to conjure images of the desolation that can only be found on the coast. Desolation, yes – you’d expect landscapes of poverty, rundown inner-city areas, empty houses on empty streets; but not closed, grey beaches, B&B’s with ‘Vacancies’ signs flapping in the wind.
With their debut album A Seaside Town in Winter, Nottingham’s Falling Off Maps have managed it in majesterial fashion. Together, Dave Wright (vocals and guitar), Dane Prewett (bass and electronics), Joe Watts (guitar) and Jay Wright (drums) have made a special album that tugs at your heartstrings, but never leaves you cold.
A Seaside Town in Winter opens with We Are Here, which itself starts with gorgeous vocal harmonies which are shortly joined by intermittent electronics. Wright’s (Dave) vocals then come over the top, lamentint the heartbreak of a soon-to-be-departed loved one, someone perhaps leaving the un-named seaside town but becoming something less by doing so.
The second track is also the second single. The Redeemer is propelled by Prewett and Wright (Jay) combining breakbeats and dub lines that sound superb. The emotional weight of the song, and indeed the album as a whole, is not just carried by Wright (Dave), but is made to soar.
Honest, the first single is up next; heartfelt and bleak, beautiful yet weary. It’s fair to say that Falling Off Maps are capable of making music older and more infolrmed than their years should allow. You can add Flowers By The Roadside into this too.
At 15 songs in length, cynics could argue that for a debut album it’s too long and will drag. I can say with great happiness that they’d be wrong. Each song is as strong as the previous, and to use a god-awful cliche, the album is more than the sum of its parts.
“I punched Matthew in the stomach, just to let him know I was serious” is the standout line in Through The Forest, a sparse track that swings from lows to, if not high, then at least the promise of such.
Third single All My Fears has echoes of Radiohead – which is no bad thing, nor is it a rip-off or pastiche. The expected crescendo that begins with Wright imploring someone to wake him from his dream never fully realises itself. It’s as devastating as realising that you’re already awake.
There is also euphoria to be found here. The refrain of Wolf River/The Smoking Room at Hotel Cafe
We’re not running, we’re not running away/We’re just making something better, something better for each other
will only be beaten by something even more special. Neon Cross continues the the,e with Harrison’s piano taking centre stage.
The second longest track on the album, Visiting Hours comes close to beating the above. The repetition of ‘come on’ may not be unique or original, but the crescendo does come here, and it’s a pay off that makes the whole album worth your time to listen to.
I haven’t heard a debut album so polished, so composed and so mature in a long while. Falling Off Maps have made an album that may well be one of the year. Everyone else – the bar has been set, and it’s very, very high.
A Seaside Town in Winter by Falling Off Maps will be released on the 27th January on Square Peg Round Hole.